Archives for posts with tag: OSV

The year just gone was a mixed one for offshore. Incremental progress continued towards rebalancing, while some sectors saw small day rate improvements compared to 2017. Overall though, challenges persisted in an oil price environment characterised by uncertainty and volatility. Several key indicators underperformed relative to start year sentiment and the year ended on something of a negative note.

For the full version of this article, please go to Offshore Intelligence Network.

Global oil prices were buoyed in Q4 2016 by OPEC’s decision to cut production. Perhaps more surprising still was the extent of compliance with quotas, for an organisation with a past track record of over-production. At their recent meeting, OPEC overcame some members’ objections and agreed to extend the cuts until March 2018. How will this affect the oil price and how does it impact the shipping industry?

Cutting To The Quick

Twenty years ago, OPEC had substantial control over the supply side of the oil market. Today, the rise of shale oil has created doubts that OPEC retains the power to influence the market in a lasting way. This question is still to be resolved, though it is true that the cuts have allowed shale producers a new lease of life in terms of spending (up c.50% in 2017) and drilling (the US land rig count is up 120% y-o-y). However, OPEC are making the most concerted attempt for more than a decade to control supply. As the Graph of the Month shows, past quota compliance has been poor, and indeed for a decade this was effectively acknowledged by the lack of a formal quota.

Cutting Down

The difference recently is that OPEC has actually succeeded in cutting to below the level of the quota, despite allowing some members (such as Iran) to avoid formal cuts. The collective reduction has partly been down to outages (notably in Nigeria and Venezuela). However, it also reflects Saudi Arabia shouldering a lion’s share of cuts (c.0.75m bpd or 55%).

Expectations of an extension to cuts boosted oil prices in the run up to the announcement (though after the meeting, prices fell as investors took profits). Higher prices have a range of ramifications for shipping. One consequence is higher fuel prices, increasing shipowners’ costs unless they can pass this on. Previous periods of high fuel costs pushed owners to slow steam. This mitigated the problem, to some extent, but few ships sped up when prices came down. So currently this would be a difficult trick to repeat.

Cut And Run?

The cuts could also affect tanker demand, either via lower crude and product exports (27% of seaborne trade), or lesser import demand if high prices moderate demand growth. So far, price increases have been moderate, and it seems as if the Saudis in particular have been doing their best to curtail domestic oil usage to protect long-haul export customers (more than 18m bpd, of 47%, of crude trade is exported from the Middle East Gulf).

Perhaps most obviously, the OPEC cuts have brought a modicum of more bullish sentiment to oil companies’ E&P investment decisions. This has helped offshore markets a little, notably through a small upturn in tendering and fixing activity for drilling rigs (Clarkson Research’s average rig rate index is up 2% since end-2016). However, there has been little to no effect on rates in related markets such as OSVs, and most would acknowledge the extreme fragility of any improvement.

So, the widely-trailed extension to OPEC production cuts boosted oil prices during May, although it remains to be seen if shale production quickly offsets this. Oil price dynamics have a mixture of positive and negative effects for shipping, but certainly remain crucial given the key role of oil both for shipping and for the wider economy. Have a nice day!

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As in the case of most areas of shipbuilding, the contracting boom of the mid-2000s allowed Chinese shipyards to gain market share in the OSV sector. Initially, however, this was limited to relatively simple units. More recently, Chinese yards have begun to construct more sophisticated vessels, with broader global appeal. At the same time, they have grown market share (53% of the OSV orderbook, versus 36% in 2008).

AHTS Demand Dries Up

Back in the boom years, although Chinese yards took many orders, the majority of these were from Asian owners for use in the benign waters of the East. Asian-designed ‘commodity’ AHTSs of around 5,150 bhp made up the bulk (55%) of these orders. Chinese yards were assisted in gaining a market share by
build-to-stock intermediaries, such as MAC, Coastal or Nam Cheong, which outsourced orders to Chinese yards with the prior intention of resale close to delivery. Meanwhile, European owners tended to restrict their ordering to established yards, for instance those in Norway, whose designs they knew and trusted.

In Asia, working for NOCs like Petronas, Pertamina and PTTEP, whose operations are mostly near-shore, these small OSVs could find a market. But both Chinese yards (keen to diversify their product mix) and Asian owners (keen to expand their business into new geographies) had an incentive to change approach.

PSV Purchasing

In an effort to climb the value chain, Chinese yards began to licence OSV designs from European companies, such as Rolls-Royce, or Ulstein for example. Subsequent ordering of such designs has been focussed on larger PSVs – in 2013, 82% of orders for Chinese built PSVs 4,000+ dwt had European designs. Demand for these vessels outpaced that for AHTSs, as more deepwater and far-from-shore fields entered development, with PSVs being the vessel of choice for these remote operations. The yards’ previous (Asian) clients transferred their attention to these vessel types, keen to gain a slice of the action in areas like the North Sea, or West Africa. At the same time, non-Asian owners were encouraged to order at yards now offering designs which they recognised, at prices 20-30% lower than those offered by European shipyards. Between the start of 2010 and 2014, China’s OSV orderbook rose nearly fivefold, to 382 units (53% market share).

Future Demand

Of course, the trend towards China can only last if the vessels which they deliver meet with acceptance in the Atlantic oil producing regions. However, the signs are encouraging, with Chinese built vessels making up a large proportion of deliveries into internationally operated areas (33% in 2013). Of all Asian-built PSVs with European designs currently active, around 30% are employed in West Africa, whilst 30% of PSVs >3,000 dwt are working in NW Europe.

This is an evolving situation, which will become clearer as the large PSV orderbook delivers. For the time being, however, Chinese yards look to have risen to the challenge of becoming builders of OSVs attractive for global operations.

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